Steve Bidinger, an American and the Co-founder & CEO of Skai, discusses the startup, his background, and why now is the time to enter India.
Clean & Sustainable, Made in Italy & Japan.
Skai is an affordable lifestyle brand that focuses on clean and sustainable beauty. Its mission is to offer high-quality beauty products that benefit both you and the planet. The initial products include hair care made in Italy and hair color made in Japan.
The D2C hair care, certified vegan by ICEA Italy, is marketed as natural, organic, and eco-friendly. The hair care is designed for daily use, gentle, and effective, targeting both women and men of all ages. The plant-based, sulfate-free shampoo is a 3-in-1 product for hair, scalp, and skin. The nutrient-rich treatment is also a 3-in-1 product and has been nominated for a Sustainable Cosmetic Award in Japan.
The D2C hair color is promoted as “salon quality at home,” with Olaplex-like damage care and a simple color selection tailored for Asian hair (typically black, with 1 phenotype). Initially, the hair color will be marketed to women in their 30s to 50s who dye their hair at home.
Skai recently launched in Japan as part of its ambitious plan for expansion into multiple markets and product categories. Business development for India, China, and other parts of Asia is underway. Skai is actively developing plans for India and seeking local partners for manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and finance.
Looking ahead, Skai plans to expand into more categories and products using additional makers in India, France, and beyond. This may include skin care, makeup, fragrance, supplements, and lifestyle goods.
From Corporate to Entrepreneur.
Steve’s career spans four decades, with about half working for large corporations and half as an entrepreneur. This includes 33 years in cosmetics, with 30 years based in Japan.
His corporate career began after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree from Boston University. Initially, he worked with computer modeling, financial analysis, and strategic planning for a Fortune 500 chemical company and a regional commercial bank.
After obtaining his MBA degree from Harvard, he worked in New York and London in consulting and other professional services. He was also involved in M&A and IPO work in New York, including the Revlon IPO and the sale of the Max Factor brand to P&G.
Next, Steve worked with the Revlon group as a VP in the US and Japan. While in Japan to help restructure a subsidiary with one thousand employees, he learned all the functional areas needed to successfully manage a cosmetic brand. He helped build a profitable new business, with sales growing from zero to $60 million at retail value in just over five years.
After Revlon, Steve joined the Chanel group as President of a Japan subsidiary that he set up for the Bourjois makeup brand (now owned by the Coty group). While President, he grew sales from zero to $30 million at retail value in just over three years.
During the past two decades, Steve has worked as an entrepreneur, primarily focusing on what is now called clean and sustainable beauty. He started with import & distribution and brought brands such as REN “clean skincare” and John Masters Organics to Japan.
Over time, his work evolved to mostly brand/product creation and market development in over 10 markets. For example, he advised Pola Corporation about natural products before they created the successful THREE brand in department stores and bought the Jurlique brand worldwide.
One notable accomplishment was the establishment of the Japan Cosmetic Center (“JCC”), modeled on France’s “Cosmetic Valley.” Steve personally proposed the idea and then helped create JCC, which is a trade association of cosmetic brands, manufacturers, suppliers, universities, farms, and government in Japan & France.
Steve is the son of a nuclear engineer and a schoolteacher and is the second oldest of eight children. He grew up in a loving but disciplined family in the Maryland suburbs, just outside Washington DC. Being active with school (first in his class in high school & university), sports & activities, part-time work, and church was an important part of his upbringing.
He cites his mother as a major inspiration, recalling that while he had a summer job with IBM during one university break, his mother, despite raising eight children, teaching full-time, and pursuing her master’s degree at night, continued to inspire him.
Steve married a Japanese lady who is a Buddhist. Together they have three happy and promising children, including the oldest son who is a VC in Japan, a daughter who helps keep customers of an American software company satisfied, and a younger son who is a university student.
Why India Now?
While the US, China, and Japan are the top three cosmetic markets (with sales of $100 billion, $100 billion, and $40 billion, respectively), time is of the essence to enter and grow in India.
During his 30 years in Japan, the market has been relatively “flat.” Its population is now the oldest in the world (with a median age of 49), and its total population began to decline around 2010. French cosmetic imports reigned supreme for 30 years, but just this past year, low-priced Korean imports were number one.
Until recently, Steve planned on China as the second market for Skai, after Japan. For years, he consulted with and watched brands that were “good” but could simply ride the population & market growth in China, while brands that were “excellent” could struggle in the extremely competitive market in Japan.
However, China’s working-age population, which is currently about 850 million, began to decline in 2020. By 2040, China’s working-age population will be 170 million less than India’s. Other factors have also made China less attractive: the pandemic, politics over Japan’s nuclear reactor, and a growing preference for made-in-China brands.
So now, Steve has changed his focus to India: it is relatively young, with a median age of 27; the population, currently at 1.4 billion, will grow to 1.7 billion by 2050; its working-age population, currently at 650 million, will grow until 2050; its urban population will exceed rural by about 2045; and incomes and spending are growing.
Likewise, online shopping, retail, D2C brands, and related investment continue to skyrocket. India’s online customer base increased by 125 million in the past three years (as of 2022), and another 80 million are expected by 2025. D2C is projected to grow 100-fold in 13 years, surging from $200 million in 2017 to an estimated $20 billion in 2030.
Of special interest, Steve has noted the recent trends towards Korean brands that began around 2017 and Japanese brands that began around 2021.
With imported products (including Italian-made and Japan-made products, known for high quality and performance), functional and ingredient stories, a focus on clean and sustainable beauty, made-in-India products using indigenous plants & Ayurvedic concepts, and cooperation with local strategic partners, Skai could truly differentiate itself in India.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Who is the founder of Skai Beauty?
Steve Bidinger is the founder & CEO of Skai Beauty.
What is Skai Beauty?
Skai Beauty is a Tokyo-based direct-to-consumer (D2C) lifestyle brand that focuses on clean and sustainable beauty.